Monday night's City Council meeting was a tense and sometimes confusing affair, as council members squabbled with City Manager Harry Walker over the city's proposed 2009 budget.The budget is balanced at just more than $10.1 million and, for the third year in a row, relies on the sale of city-owned property. That was just one of the points of contention for council members, who grilled Walker about the city's fiscal outlook for 2009.
After voting for maintaining the city's current property tax rate and against a proposed increase for non-union administrative employees, council tabled the budget and scheduled a special meeting for Monday, Dec. 13, to discuss it further.
Council voted unanimously, 6-0, to keep the city's property tax stable, with Councilwoman Robin Scott absent.
Raises for non-union employees did not fare so well, however. Council voted 4-2 against the proposal, with members Kareem Johnson, Martin Eggleston, Patsy Ray and Ed Simpson opposed.
Walker had proposed an increase of 4.5 percent for non-union employees in 2009, but Eggleston and Simpson questioned if that was realistic given the city's economic troubles.
"To be honest, I wasn't expecting a 4.5 percent increase," Simpson said. "In light of today's economic situation with everybody, does 4.5 percent seem excessive?"
Walker said the raise was included because last year non-union employees did not receive a raise. The percentage was determined by him, he said.
"The idea was to give them something to make up for last year," Walker said. "In my personal opinion, these are the hardest working people in the city."
Simpson recommended 2 percent raises, but got no response.
The proposed budget also includes a 6 percent increase in administration pensions, a figure that Simpson said is also too high.
But Walker said city employees should not be punished for the city's poor financial situation. He blamed the problems on the previous administration, which left office three years ago.
Council President Karen Jorgenson said the city's current situation cannot be compared to the previous administration's handling of the finances.
"The bottom line is this administration is no better than the last because we are doing the exact same thing," Simpson said.
"That's not true," Jorgenson said. "That's not true."
Simpson also questioned whether Police Chief William Matthews should be given a raise in light of the fact that he has not yet been certified as a police officer.
In May, Council gave Matthews, who was not in attendance at Monday night's meeting, an additional six months to become certified. Walker said the issue would be addressed at the next council meeting, set for Dec. 13.
Council also had concern that the city would have a deficit at the end of 2008, but Walker insisted the city would not come up short.
The budget is balanced on the hopes that $1 million worth of city-owned property will be sold in 2009. Simpson expressed doubts the sales would happen, while Walker remained optimistic. At previous budget meetings, Walker had said the city might need a loan until the properties are sold.
The administration expects to take in more than $2.6 million from property taxes - flat from 2008 - and transfer $1 million in interest from a reserve trust fund.
The city also expects to collect more than $600,000 in permit fees in 2009. In the first eight months of 2008, the city collected roughly $230,000 in permit fees.
Additionally, Walker projects the city's earned-income tax revenue would increase from $2.4 million in 2008 to more than $3.2 million in 2009. In early November, Walker said the city had collected more than $2.4 million this year in earned-income taxes.
The proposed 2009 budget for the police department next year is more than $3.7 million, which is roughly $124,000 more than this year. Police Chief William Matthews said the increase includes roughly $69,000 for two Dodge Chargers to replace older patrol cars. The department also purchased two Dodge Chargers this year to replace older vehicles.